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Primary Care

Learn the signs and symptoms of strep throat and when it's time to call the doctor.

Strep throat, sore throat, or COVID-19? Know when a sore throat is more than a sore throat, and when it's time to see the doctor.

Learn the signs and symptoms of strep throat and when it's time to call the doctor.

With cases of COVID-19 on the rise, we all get anxious as soon as we - or our children - feel that familiar tickle in our throat. Is it a cold? Allergies? Could it be COVID? The symptoms of strep throat can vary, from a severe sore throat to a fever, to visible irritation in the mouth. The good news is, knowing what to look for can put your mind at ease and help you know whether to reach for the lozenges, or call the doctor to see if an antibiotic may be needed.

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Symptoms of Strep Throat

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • A sore throat that comes on very quickly
  • Pain when you swallow - pain that may be severe
  • A fever
  • Swollen and red tonsils that may also have white streaks or dots
  • Small red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes on your neck

Have a cough or a runny nose? That may indicate that you or your child has a virus, rather than strep throat. Worried it may be COVID-19? The CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker tool can help. Often with COVID-19, a cough and/or shortness of breath may be present. With strep throat symptoms, there is usually no cough.

The signs of strep throat can often mimic those of viruses like the common cold, and some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19. If you, your child, or a family member are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to avoid contact with others, monitor symptoms closely, and visit or call your primary care doctor with any concerns.

Diagnosing and Treating Strep Throat

Children are more likely to develop strep throat than adults. However, if you or a loved one are showing signs of strep throat, it’s a good idea to visit an urgent care center or your primary care doctor for a throat culture. There are a couple different variations of strep throat tests, including the rapid strep test and a throat culture. A rapid strep test provides results within minutes, while a throat culture can take 24-48 hours to diagnose or rule out strep throat. Sometimes, even if you produce a negative rapid strep test, your doctor may send the sample out to a lab for a throat culture. A rapid strep test alone is sometimes not enough to determine the presence of the bacteria that causes strep throat.

If you or a family member are diagnosed with strep throat, it’s very important to stay home and avoid going to work or school until the fever is gone and antibiotics have been taken for at least 12 hours.

Relief from frequent strep throat

Patients who suffer from strep throat often, multiple times a year, may be good candidates for a tonsillectomy. Iowa Clinic’s Ear, Nose, and Throat physicians are available to answer your questions on when it may be time to consider having those tonsils out. Doctors often recommend that patients who have strep throat 7 or more times each year talk with their care team about surgical options. However, it’s important to note that a tonsillectomy does not remove the risk of strep throat altogether. It can help lessen the severity of the symptoms of strep throat - and it can lessen the occurrence of strep throat. Meaning you won’t need to reach for the aspirin or lozenges as often.

Dr. Chad Stocker, DO has some additional tips for dealing with strep throat.

“As the weather turns colder here in Iowa, strep throat is something we all need to be cautious of, with everyone spending more time indoors and with many of us working or learning from home. The best advice I can give is if you suspect strep throat, don’t wait - call or visit your doctor. And be sure to frequently wash your hands to help prevent the spread of strep throat this season.”